Review of the Day: First Light (Part Two)
(CONTINUED FROM PART ONE)
There were a couple problems here and there, of course. For example, I did feel that there was some difficulty in this book when it came to separating names of characters. Particularly characters of the dog-like persuasion. In Gracehope the dogs, or Chikchu, are special companions to the humans. Each person is assigned their own dog, which is fine and all but because Thea is constantly working with a bunch of different animals it can get very confusing parsing one canine from another. To a certain extent, this was applicable to the adults living in Gracehope as well. I don’t know if it was that their names weren’t distinct enough or what, but sometimes I had a hard time remembering who was who. A name chart at the beginning or end of the book would not have been out of place. Some reviewers have also criticized the mythology surrounding Gracehope’s origins. Though a little foggy, I bought into the idea that a persecuted people might be able to found a new land with some ingenuity here and there. Maybe the actual details were sketchy, but once you’re in Gracehope you’re convinced that it could work the way Stead says (though certainly the issue of indoor plumbing is never really addressed). For my part, I wasn’t altogether persuaded that someone from the past, however gifted they might have been, would have cracked the secret of DNA. Stead asks you to make a leap or two in the course of the book, but these are never leaps that distract entirely from the central theme, characters, or plot.
Certainly this is the book to pull out and recommend when you get kids screaming for more books like "City of Ember". The two titles are vastly different in tone and methodology, but they share some surface similarities. Both books involve cities under the surface of the Earth where a boy and a girl are desirous of some upward mobility (sorry, I couldn’t resist). Both involve civilizations that over the course of generations have forgotten that they are temporary situations. Stead’s book doesn’t naturally lend itself to sequels, which is a bit of a relief. Sometimes it’s nice to read a book that doesn’t end on a cliffhanger or climax. As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, I’ve never been able to ascertain whether or not I myself read science fiction as a kid. Still, I like to think that if I did, this would have been the kind of book I’d have liked. Equally enjoyable to boys and girls, it’s a fun take on a different kind of world.
Notes on the Cover: Way clever. I’m going to hand this one to Random House’s marketing department, because it is clear that whoever worked on this dust jacket actually read the book. It appears that Ms. Erica O’Rourke is to be credited here. Perhaps I would have made the upside down Thea a bit larger, since it’s not clear that she’s there unless you really peer closely. Otherwise the bracelet that mimics a strand of DNA is convincing and the cover conveys all the bleakness of the Arctic without sacrificing character or the elements of good design. Well played.
First Line: “Most boys his age had never touched paper.”
Other Blog Reviews: Becky’s Book Reviews, MotherReader, Propernoun.net, The Reading Zone, A Patchwork of Books, and Infodad.com
Misc: Be sure to check out Ms. Stead’s page on the Class of 2K7 website.
Filed under: Reviews
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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